Looking glass

Looking glass

When the trailer of the film Lipstick Under My Burkha was released, it immediately created a stir. In fact, the Central Board of Film Certification found the film ‘objectionable’ and went ahead and banned it. After much protest, the film saw the light of the day. Films like Water and Fire went through similar ordeal. When  Paroma released in 1984, men saw the film as encouraging adultery amongst women. The common thread amongst all these aforementioned films is that they were directed by women.  

Nandita Dutta’s debut book, F-rated: Being a Woman Filmmaker in India, explores what is it like to be a woman filmmaker. The book, published by HarperCollins, brings together diverse stories of 11 filmmakers: Aparna Sen, Mira Nair, Farah Khan, Meghna Gulzar, Nandita Das, Shonali Bose, Tanuja Chandra, 

Anjali Menon, Reema Kagti, Kiran Rao and Alankrita Srivastava. 

Dutta, who works at the Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality at Ashoka University, has written extensively on Indian cinema for national and international publications. The writer feels that she felt disappointed about the state of film journalism in the country, which she believes acts like a public relations machinery for professionals in the film world. Chatting up Dutta: 

- After having written this book, what do you think it means to be a woman filmmaker in India?
I do not think there is any one definition or formula that captures the essence of being a woman filmmaker in India. It covers a whole gamut of experiences depending on your social location, the people you know in the film industry, and the kind of story you want to tell. 

But the one universal thing it does mean is that you will not have the structural privileges that a man does. You will not find it easy to make your first film and you will be written off easily if you do not succeed. You will have to deal with certain stereotypes and the kind of films you should be making. It also means you will have to get used to ‘multitasking’ if you choose to have a family.  These, and many other things, which we take for granted and do not see as functions of one’s gender. 

- How easy/difficult was it get to these filmmakers to bare their hearts?
What I found remarkable through the journey of writing F-Rated... was that none of the women ever played the ‘victim’. They are incredibly strong, powerful and brilliant women, which is why, they are where they are at, in their professional lives. Each of them was aware of the role their gender plays in their profession, but that was not the first thing they wanted to ruminate over. But once there is mutual trust, conversations organically evolve and stories begin to emerge.

- How has their participation changed the fabric of Indian cinema?
The number of women filmmakers are increasing at a very small rate. As I write in the introduction of my book, it is shocking that out of the 116 Bollywood films released in 2018, only seven were directed by women. It is really important that more women participate in storytelling, because they bring their unique voices and sensibilities to the table. They also create well-rounded female characters that are more fun to watch than the stereotypes that Bollywood has been serving us for ages.

- How are web series changing the presentation of women characters?
With web series, of course there is more freedom and less obligation. So, not only are filmmakers experimenting with content and style, but also creating female characters that are complex and feel alive. Made in Heaven’s Tara is a fantastic example.  

- Do you think things have changed for the better for women filmmakers in 2019?
Sexual harassment in film industries across the world finally became dinner table conversation, thanks to the #MeToo movement, but I don’t think gender-based pay gap is something that is talked about enough. 

Barring top actors like Priyanka Chopra and Anushka Sharma mentioning it occasionally, are we getting to read or hear enough about it? Let’s forget actors for a moment; what about women directors and technicians? Are they paid the same as men? I would like to find out. 

Apparently, Deepika Padukone was the highest earning actor last year, but her earnings were less than half of what was earned by Salman Khan, the highest earning male actor of the year. The real problem is that these issues are viewed in isolation from each other. These are not individual problems. These are systemic problems, which means that Deepika and a small-time female make-up artist are not getting their dues. They are both being discriminated against because of their gender. 

Do we have any collectives or associations such as the Women in Cinema Collective in Kerala — that are taking up these issues in Bollywood? We keep hearing that things are getting better, but, to me, it sounds like we have achieved too little, too late.

- What are your thoughts on casual sexism and how do you tackle it?
Men have a long way to go in understanding and changing behaviour that is sexist. For both men and women, I think acknowledgement of what is sexist and problematic is the first step towards change. We have internalised patriarchy and its effects to such an extent that we have a hard time recognising something as problematic in the first place. Every workplace throws at you new kinds of challenges. 

For example, I work at a university currently and am struck by how naturally assertive and confident male students are vis-à-vis female students who need more pushing to voice their opinion in class.

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